To Promote the General Welfare

Market Processes vs. Political Transfers

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Published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in the Advanced Studies in Political Economy series.

Volumes have been written about the welfare state, covering everything from taxation and regulation to bureaucracy and Social Security. But what are the institutions that make such a state possible, and what alternatives exist to create a better outcome? First published in 1989 and now reprinted with a new preface from the author, To Promote the General Welfare explores this question and demonstrates that economic and political theory are inextricably linked.

In this book, Wagner suggests that the current welfare state results from an institutional framework in which governments, acting on behalf of dominant political coalitions, attempt to redistribute wealth through piecemeal welfare legislation. But this government intervention runs counter both to economic theory, which states that such intervention is likely to be offset by market processes, and to political theory, which examines the incentives that shape collective choices.

Wagner proposes an alternative institutional framework that restrains government power and creates a contractarian state. This book will be of interest to Austrian and public choice economists and, more generally, to all concerned with the expanding reach of the welfare state.

“Richard Wagner’s book merits the highest praise. No previous work has so persuasively revealed the complex interrelationships among work, poverty, wealth, welfare, and redistributive taxation in market-oriented societies.”
Robert W. Clower

“Wagner’s examination of welfare state policies from a public choice perspective is provocative and insightful. It ably represents a viewpoint too long neglected in analysis of egalitarian policies.”
Edgar K. Browning

“Wagner does an excellent job of explaining contemporary welfare policy as the logical result of the political framework in which we operate.”
P. J. Hill



Chapter 1: Contractarian State, Welfare State, and Constitutional Order

Chapter 2: The Welfare State: Approaches to Justification

Chapter 3: Policy Norms and the Question of State Competence

Chapter 4: Taxation and Income Redistribution

Chapter 5: Public Spending and Income Redistribution

Chapter 6: Regulation and the Welfare State

Chapter 7: The Market for Legislation in a Republican Polity

Chapter 8: The Transfer Society and the Welfare State

Chapter 9: The Welfare State versus the General Welfare

Chapter 10: Welfare Reform, Constitutional Reform, and the General Reform